Responsible business, not casino capitalism
As social entrepreneurs, what are we to make of the current UK politicians' spat about whether the various parties are pro- or anti- 'business'?
I've always been an entrepreneur. While still at school I started a disco with 3 friends – we owned the equipment between us, equal shares – and on going away to university I set up a little business selling pocket calculators (then new and like gold dust). I recognise in myself nearly all the qualities normally associated with entrepreneurs (good and bad!). I am, in one party's jargon. 'a wealth creator'. But in my 20s I discovered social enterprise. The idea that you can use business models and methods to make everyone's lives richer is to me much more powerful than making yourself rich in merely material things. And I'm not a-typical. Let's be clear:
- The vast majority of business people actually don't get filthy rich – they just run good businesses providing useful products and services, mostly well integrated in their local communities
- The vast majority of businesses in the UK are very small – 95% of them have under 10 employees
- For most of us, entrepreneurialism is not about greed – it's about non-material personal achievements – and about a third of us actually put achieving good social outcomes for others before making money.
The problem with the pro- or anti- 'business' political spat is that 'business' is not just one thing - and there is a world of difference between the vast majority of mainly small businesses and the literally filthy rich world of multinational banks and corporates.
Only Lord Myners (not somebody I would normally quote!) made the important distinction between responsible business and casino capitalism:
“Labour is pro-responsible business. It will promote an environment that is consistent with effective competition; it will challenge abusive monopoly behaviour, take steps to promote competition where customers are being disadvantaged (for instance, in retail banking) and promote long-term investment rather than the casino capitalism that has disadvantaged the UK’s economy and social cohesion.”
But nobody, as far as I know, has been pointing out that social enterprise is not some half-baked idealistic alternative to capitalism, but real entrepreneurs proving day in and day out that business models based on ethical behaviour and social impact work better than business models based on greed and exploitation. Social enterprises such as Cafédirect have over many years consistently taken market share from multinational companies that devote themselves exclusively to growth and profit. Ethical investment funds regularly outperform funds that deliberately set out to invest only for maximum return.
We can do business better than 'business'. And we do it, to paraphrase Cameron, not despite being ethical, but because we are ethical.